The day before was nothing special. It was special only because of how unspecial it was, or perhaps by how unspecial it would very soon become. Things were always stranger in retrospect, which was a funny little consequence of time.
Aldo, who was called less frequently by his surname, Damiani, and even less commonly by his birth name, Rinaldo, had rolled a joint five minutes prior to his episode of silent meditation. He was twirling it between his fingers, staring into nothing.
SCENE: The air that afternoon has the crisp, weatherless quality that only happens in Chicago for about a week in mid-September. The sun is bright overhead, and the leaves on the tree above him are mostly undisturbed.
ACTION: ALDO raises the joint to his lips, saturating the cigarette paper.
The joint was unlit, because he was thinking. He’d come out to this park to sit on this bench to solve something, and he had been sitting there for ten minutes, thinking for nine and a half, rolling for four, and now fake-smoking for a good thirty seconds. Muscle memory, Aldo had always thought, was the key to unlocking any door that wouldn’t open. The act of solving something was, for him, as superstitious as anything.
ALDO glances at the audience. Noticing nothing amiss, he looks away.
The mechanics of his ritual were simple: Raise the joint to his lips, breathe in, breathe out, let his hand fall. This was the formula. Formulas he understood. He brought the joint to his lips, inhaled, and exhaled into nothing.
A BREEZE slides through the leaves overhead.
Aldo’s right thumb beat against his thigh, percussive to the rhythm of Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King,”
which then infected the rest of his fingers. They drummed against the threading of his jeans, impatient, while his left hand continued the motion of faux-smoking.
Aldo was thinking about quantum groups. Specifically, hexagons. It was Aldo’s firm belief that the hexagon was the most significant form in nature, not purely because of his fondness for the Apis—commonly known as the honeybee—but not entirely unrelated. Many people were typically unaware of how many kinds of bees there were. The bumblebee was slow and stupid enough to be petted, which was sort of sweet, though not quite as interesting.
THE NARRATOR, AN AGING, ARTHRITIC MAN IN POSSESSION OF MANY BOOKS: We interrupt your perusal of Aldo Damiani’s intrusive thoughts to provide some necessary academic insight. The great Kurt Gödel, a twentieth-century logician and friend of Albert Einstein, believed that a continuous trajectory of “light cones” toward the future meant that one could always return to the same point in space-time. It is Aldo Damiani’s essential thesis that these cones travel methodically, perhaps even predictably, along hexagonal paths.
Hexagons. Quantum groups. Symmetry. Nature loved balance, especially symmetry, but rarely managed it. How often did nature create perfection? Almost never. Math was different. Math had rules, finite and concrete, but then it just kept going. The problem and the thrill of abstract algebra was that Aldo had been studying it in depth for over seven years, and he could study it for seven million more and still understand almost nothing. He could spend infinite lifetimes studying the mathematical basis of the universe and the universe would still not make sense. In two weeks it might snow, might rain sideways, and then this park would not be available to him. He could get arrested for not-smoking or die at any moment, and then he’d have to do his thinking in jail or not at all, and the universe would remain unsolved. His work would never be done, and that alone was tragic, exhilarating, perfect.
Right on schedule,
FROM ALDO’S POCKET: a vibration that prompts the audience to reach instinctively for their own pockets.
his father called.
Aldo tucked the joint into his pocket and dug out his phone. “Hello?”
“Rinaldo. Where are you?”
There was a long answer and a short answer, and Masso would probably insist on both. “Working.”
“You mean school?”
“Yes, Dad. I work at school.”
“Mm.” Masso already knew that, but the asking was another ritual. “What are you thinking about today?”
“Bees,” said Aldo.
“Ah. The usual, then?”
“Yes, something like that.” There was never an easy way to explain what he was working on. It was nice of his father to ask, but they both knew that anything Aldo had to say was mostly lost on him. “Everything okay, Dad?”
“Yes, yes, fine. How are you feeling?”
There was a right answer to this question and many, many wrong ones. This question, much like quantum groups, did not get any easier the more times Aldo was asked. The more times he ran the scenarios, in fact, the more the variables changed. How was he feeling? He had been bad before. He would be bad again. It would cycle and fluctuate the same way the weather would. It would rain in two weeks, he thought.
THE WIND picks up slightly, tendrils of it slipping through the leaves.
“I’m fine,” Aldo said.
“Good.” Masso Damiani was a chef, a single father, and a worrier, in that order. Masso thought about the universe often, the same way Aldo did, but differently. Masso asked the universe how much salt to boil in the water, or whether this vine or that one would provide the sweetest fruit. He knew when the pasta was done without looking, probably because of the universe. Masso had the gift of certainty and did not require any superstition.
Aldo’s mother, a lively Dominican girl too young for motherhood and too beautiful to stay long in one place, had never been very present. If she had ever asked anything from the universe, Aldo imagined she’d probably gotten what she wished.
Copyright © 2020 by Alexene Farol Follmuth